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#FreeBobiWine: Protests mount over torture and arrest of a young political force in Uganda

MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known as”Bobi Wine”, (R) while campaigning for Arua MP-elect Kassiano Wadri (L). Photo posted on the MP's official Facebook page.

Protests have erupted throughout Uganda after parliamentarian Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu was charged at a military court following his brutal arrest and torture in the town of Arua in northwest Uganda. 

The singer-turned-politician known as “Bobi Wine” who represents the Kyadondo East district has been a fierce critic of President Yoweri Museveni and was in the Arua district campaigning for independent candidate Kassiano Wadri. 

Fondly known as “the Ghetto President,” Wine has galvanized young voters to engage in critical by-elections since 2016, when Museveni won yet another term to extend his 32-year-old rule. 

In Arua, on August 13, Bobi Wine's personal driver Yasin Kawuma was shot and killed in his car. Images of Kawuma's blood-soaked, lifeless body still strapped in his parked car have shaken the country. Chaos subsequently ensued in the final campaign rallies during which the Ugandan government claims Wadri's supporters stoned a presidential convoy.

All indications had pointed to a win for Wadri over the ruling party's candidate, making the Arua district vote particularly tense.

Although Bobi Wine was not at the scene of the alleged attack on the presidential convoy, the military tracked him down at his hotel and reportedly tortured him.

Hours later, Bobi Wine was taken to Gulu, a town located in northern Uganda. On August 16, 2018, he was charged at a military court on two counts of possession of firearms and one count of possession of ammunition. Lawyers permitted to see him described his state as dire without the ability to walk or talk. 

President Museveni later claimed accounts of Bobi Wine's torture were “fake news”. However, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) team that visited Bobi Wine confirmed the accounts.

MP candidate Wadri was also arrested along with several other MP's including MP Francis Zaake, who was later dumped at a Kampala hospital where he remains on life support.

Wadri along with MP Paul Mwiru (Jinja East) and Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and 31 other people were charged with treason and remanded to Gulu Central Prison.

Bobi Wine was later flown to a military detention center in the capital Kampala where he will be held until August 23, pending a court appearance.

Meanwhile, lawyer Male Mabirizi has challenged the Constitutional Court for charging civilians before military courts.

Close family members and colleagues say Bobi Wine requires urgent medical attention. The military has denied him a private a doctor:

‘People Power, Our Power’

Bobi Wine's slogan ‘People Power, Our Power’ has become a game changer in Ugandan politics. Sure enough, despite Wine and Wadri being under arrest, Wadri went on to win the Arua by-election.

On the streets and online, Ugandans and supporters from around the world are using #FreeBobiWine to pressure the government to release the 36-year-old politician.  

On August 17, in the Kampala suburb of Kamwokya where Wine grew up, protesters clashed with police who fired tear gas and bullets:

On Sunday, August 19, police shot and killed one person and five others were injured in Mityana Municipality, about 60 kilometers outside Kampala. 

Civilians clashed with police and military in downtown Kampala, Uganda on August 20, 2018. Photo by Halima Athumani, used with permission.

Downtown Kampala was on lockdown Monday, August 20 after breakouts of sporadic protests:

Human rights advocates have called on the police and military to respect the rights of protestors: 

Local and global rallying cry

The outcry to free Bobi Wine has been heard throughout the East African region and around the world. The European Union has issued a statement strongly condemning the by-election violence. In Uganda, the United States Embassy called for the rights of all those detained to be honored. Oxfam Uganda stressed:

Human rights are not given to Ugandans as a favour by the state, they are inalienable and accrue naturally to everybody…The Ugandan government, a beacon of peace that has opened its doors to refugees across the region, should quickly start conversations about the political future of the country to avoid future conflict and the dire consequences that come with it.

Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi announced a protest at the Uganda High Commission in Kenya on Wednesday, August 22. East African netizens are calling for a new, youth-led vision of Africa:

Clearly, Bobi Wine has sparked a movement and rallying cry against the status quo in Uganda. The government's violent crackdown on Wine and other opponents have stirred an awakening among young people thirsty for change.

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